Saving cricket from the stuffed blazers

Far from ruining Cricket's hallowed traditions, the new breed of booing and singing fan has revitalised the sport.

Duleep Allirajah

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Booing Ricky Ponting? Well it’s just not cricket, is it?

I must admit I was a bit surprised to hear the Edgbaston crowd give the Aussie skipper the bird as he came out to bat. I’ve never heard opposition players get booed at a cricket match. Me, I’d have probably applauded Ponting to the crease, purist that I am. Mind you, I might have joined in the chants of ‘cheerio’ after Graham Swann sent him back to the pavilion. But one thing I certainly won’t be doing is joining the pious chorus of tut-tutting that has greeted the booing incident. It was, after all, only a bit of booing. Childish, maybe, but pretty innocuous. Nobody got hurt. Reports that the spirit of cricket is dead are greatly exaggerated.

Dominic Lawson was first up to the pulpit. ‘Here was one of the greatest batsmen of this or any era coming to the crease, a time when applause, if not respectful silence, would be expected of the home spectators – and instead we got a cacophony of churlishness from people who had not the faintest conception of how privileged they were to be present’, he wrote in the Independent (1). Alex Massie in his Spectator blog concurred. ‘[Lawson] is right: booing Ricky Ponting is disgraceful… Only morons boo the Australian skipper.’ (2)

Lawson blames the booing on the Barmy Army, the England supporters club who have imported football chanting into Test cricket. The Barmies, however, deny that their members were responsible. ‘The booing was out of order and it did not come from our area’, said the organisation’s disappointingly un-barmy general manager Katy Cooke. ‘We are self-policing and we had no trouble at all, so we’ve been a bit bemused by the reaction.’

The Barmy Army say they want ‘to make watching cricket more fun and more popular’. Dominic Lawson isn’t too impressed with their idea of fun. ‘For the great majority of real cricket-lovers, there is no fun in being within several counties of the Barmy Army and I know of a number of people who no longer attend Test matches because of their incessant din.’

Whether or not the ‘official’ Barmy Army were responsible for the booing of Ponting is irrelevant. The villain of the piece here is the new breed of cricket fan. He gets drunk, sings boorish songs, wears fancy dress, and doesn’t understand the game’s hallowed traditions. ‘For many of these people, who come to the cricket to drink all day, the game’s history counts for less than it once did’, wrote Michael Henderson in the Daily Telegraph. ‘They walk behind the bowler’s arm, and wonder why they are upbraided. They fail to acknowledge those landmarks – fifties, maiden overs, examples of good fielding – that give a day’s play its flavour. And, being raised on football, they boo players, in this case Ponting, who make easy targets.’ (3)

Let’s just try to unpick the issue of booing here. Booing isn’t inherently good or bad. It depends on the context. Booing at a pantomime is, of course, entirely fitting. Booing at a football match is also appropriate. Booing at a dinner party or in a restaurant is not appropriate.

Likewise, booing an opposing batsman in a cricket match has hitherto been considered inappropriate. Context is everything. Most of us know the rules appropriate to different social arenas and can adjust our behaviour accordingly. It doesn’t mean that cricket spectators are more sporting than football fans. It’s just that different norms of conduct apply. The same sports fans who happily swear, chant obscene songs and boo at football matches are perfectly capable of adapting to the etiquette of a cricket stadium.

Cricket, however, is changing. The Barmy Army and their terrace songs are a new phenomenon. Spectators dressed as nuns, cartoon characters and superheroes: that’s also new. So too fans brandishing ‘4’ and ‘6’ cards when a boundary is scored. The crowds are certainly brighter and noisier. There is also a new generation of spectators whose interest in the game has been kindled by the 2005 Ashes series and the emergence of Twenty20 cricket.

The new cricket fans might not have been raised, as I was, on Test Match Special or boast an encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket history. And some of them, whisper it, have never read Wisden. But they have breathed new life into a sport which, let’s be frank, was pretty moribund in this country. If the traditionalists had their way, cricket would probably be dead by now. It was the MCC blazers, let’s not forget, who banned West Indies fans bringing musical instruments into Lords. The result? The carnival atmosphere at West Indies games was destroyed and there are now far fewer black faces at Test matches.

The new cricket fans might not applaud in all the right places but they do create a great atmosphere during Test matches. And the players certainly appreciate that. ‘It’s probably the best atmosphere in the country’, said Andrew Flintoff of the Edgbaston crowd. ‘It does give a big lift to the lads.’ Ponting himself didn’t seem unduly bothered by the booing. ‘I am told that some people have been upset about the fact that some English fans were booing me, but I thought it was a terrific atmosphere to play in, and I loved every minute’, he wrote in the Telegraph (4).

The Aussies aren’t too bothered by a bit of pantomime booing. If, on the contrary, they actually relish the raucous atmosphere, then what’s all the fuss about? The new cricket fans aren’t killing the spirit of cricket. In fact, they’re injecting some much needed vitality into a game that was being suffocated by its stuffy traditions.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Dominic Lawson: Boorish and chauvinist: the new breed of England cricket fan, Independent, 4 August 2009

(2) Ricky Ponting Deserves Our Cheers, Not Moronic Boos, Specator, 4 August 2009

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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